1999 GREAT LAKES WATER QUALITY FORUM
SEPTEMBER 24-26, 1999
LIGHTLY EDITED, VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT
SATURDAY MORNING, SEPTEMBER 25
Francis X. Lyons, Administrator, Region V, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Accompanying Visual: U.S. Great Lakes Program Presentation
Thank you very much Congressman Barrett for that very kind introduction. Thank you to the IJC Commissioners for providing me the opportunity to talk about the progress we have made in cleaning up the Great Lakes. As Regional Administrator for U.S. EPA Region V, I am fortunate to play a dual role as the Great Lakes National Program Manager. I assumed the my U.S. EPA responsibilities last May and have already become deeply involved in the Great Lakes issues. Protecting the Great Lakes has and will continue to be one of the highest priorities at U.S. EPA. During the past several months I have sensed a strong support for the lakes, these beautiful and immense water bodies called the Great Lakes. I have experienced the dedicated public and environmental community. It is unrivaled in this country and perhaps in the world. Thanks to the strong environmental community comprised of countless networks and partnerships the Great Lakes are cleaner than they have been in decades.
I'm going to spend the next 30 minutes or so giving you a progress report on U.S. accomplishments over the past few years. George Meyer, Secretary of Wisconsin Natural Resources will add some Wisconsin highlights following my presentation and then my colleague John Mills from Environment Canada and I will jointly present progress from a binational perspective.
The Great Lakes basin ecosystem contains about 20% of the world's fresh water. It's is a source of biological abundance and diversity for all of North America. The lakes are a national and an international treasure of over 10,000 miles of shoreline across eight states and two Canadian provinces. Great Lakes are home to over 33 million people. We use them for both drinking water and recreation. They are a resource for countless businesses located in the industrial heartland of this country.
Those of us who live or work in the basin want to make sure that the Great Lakes keep getting cleaner. We want to know when we stand back and look at our accomplishments that we are confident that the Great Lakes ecosystem is fully protected, and that the lakes will be clean and healthy for future generations. We have keyed our priorities in the U.S. to our responsibilities in fulfilling the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. This Agreement, which is now almost 27 years strong, sets goals and priorities for our two nations, as we go about fulfilling the mandate to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem. Our progress and priorities are developed to support these goals. I'll be outlining our progress in a number of areas related to them.
Our three main goals are, first, to reduce and eliminate toxic input to the Great Lakes basin. Second, to protect and restore vital habitats. Third, to protect human and biological health. The Great Lakes, though vast, are particularly sensitive to toxic substances. The legacy left by decades of industrialization has impacted the lakes and the life within them. Yet we have made strong progress in addressing the toxics problem. I am happy to report the lakes are cleaner today than they have been in decades, with respect to toxic levels which have dropped appreciably over time.
Other information on toxics is encouraging as well. Region V toxic air emissions as reported in the toxic release inventory, or TRI, have decreased overall from 585 million pounds per year in 1987 to the current level of emissions of 250 million pounds which is more than a 60% reduction. From 1988 to 1996 deposition of PCBs to Lakes Michigan and Superior have decreased approximately 90%. In Lake Erie there was an 80% reduction. Similarly, deposition of DDT to Lake Michigan has decreased about 80% and for Lakes Superior and Erie there was a 90% decrease for the same time period. Nationally, the number and magnitude of PCB sources have decreased 20 fold in the past 20 years. Mercury emissions alone declined from 200 tons per year in 1990 to 152 tons in 1995. Clearly, progress has been made on the toxics problem both here in the basin and on a national basis.
Having said that, I must note that wastewater discharges and air emission of toxic chemicals continue to contaminate the lakes. Earlier this month the National Wildlife Federation released a report that underscored the significance of mercury-contaminated precipitation to the health of the Great Lakes. Despite the progress we've made, we clearly have more to do. We must continue to be vigilant, particularly with respect to pollutants that are commonly referred to as persistent bioaccumulative toxic substances. Many of these toxic substances, such as PCBs, mercury, and dioxin come from sources outside of the Great Lakes basin. We have a multi-pronged approach to controlling and eliminating toxic inputs to the Great Lakes. These approaches include both regulatory as well as voluntary programs and measures. We have a range of our regulatory tools we are implementing at both the state and federal level. We are moving forward with a coordinated multi-media approach to solving the toxics problem.
One of the most important tools for protecting the Great Lakes is commonly referred to the GLI, or the Great Lakes Initiative. In 1991 Congress passed the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act. The Act required U.S. EPA and its state partners to develop more protective and uniform water quality standards and procedures to control wastewater discharges. I am happy to report that all of the Great Lakes states have adopted rules to implement the Great Lakes Initiative, they are using those state rules to reduce those discharges from pollution sources. While that represents real progress, EPA must continue to work with each state to reconcile differences between their rules and federal requirements. We are fully engaged in that work today, but let there be no mistake, the GLI is making a positive impact on water quality in the Great Lakes currently. When fully implemented, the GLI will prevent a million pounds of toxic pollutants from being discharged into the Great Lakes each year.
We also have a number of important tools in our federal environmental laws that will help solve the toxics problems in the lakes. In 1988 EPA promulgated the pulp and paper cluster rule, the Joint Clean Air Act / Clean Water Act rule. When fully implemented, this rule will achieve a 58% reduction of toxic air pollutants from this source category. Dioxin and furan discharges to water will be reduced by over 90%. Other progress is being made on the clean air fronts under the Maximum Achievable Control Technology, or MACT, program. U.S. EPA estimates that toxic air emissions will be reduced by approximately 1½ million tons per year nationally from 87 source categories. Additional reductions will be achieved by standards to be promulgated in the year 2000. For instance final rules are now in place for the medical waste incinerators and municipal waste combusters. The municipal waste combuster rule is expected to reduce mercury emissions by nearly 80% and dioxin emissions by approximately 98%. Likewise, the medical waste incinerator rule is expected to reduce mercury emissions and those dioxin emissions by roughly 95%. The estimates are national, but these will achieve significant reductions here in the Great Lakes basin as well.
Clean up and protection of the Great Lakes will not stop at the basin nor at regional boundaries. We are clearly going beyond this. The new national persistent bioaccumulative toxics pollution strategy, or PBT strategy, builds on the Great Lakes national program toxics strategy, expanding its scope to a national level. The draft multi-media PBT strategy was released by EPA headquarters last November for public comments. Under the strategy, EPA is drafting national action plans for all 12 binational strategy priority substances. EPA headquarters has released the first of these draft national action plans addressing mercury for public comments. Draft plans for PCBs, five different pesticides, alkyl-lead, and octachlorostyrene, are slated for release later this calendar year. The remaining plans are scheduled to be released in the year 2000. In addition EPA anticipates that under this strategy, we will identify additional PBTs that will be targeted for national action plans in the near future.
Pollution prevention remains a cornerstone of our approach to toxic reductions at the federal and state level. Great Lakes states have been national leaders in implementing pollution prevention. In recent years, voluntary partnerships have been formed by government, industries, and other environmental organizations to ensure that the Great Lakes are cleaner and greener than ever.
Here I would like to highlight three of these accomplishments. First is the American Hospital Agreement. In June 1998 U.S. EPA and the American Hospital Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding that sets a goal to virtually eliminate the mercury from hospital waste by the year 2005. This could reduce mercury emissions by 18 tons per year. Second is the chlor-alkali industry commitment. The industry's largest mercury user in the U.S. has committed under the Binational Toxics Strategy to reduce mercury use by 50% by the year 2005. By 1998 the chlor-alkali industry has reduced the use of by 35% below the average use levels in the early 1990s. Third, we have the steel industry agreement. Three Northwest Indiana steel mills, Bethlehem Steel at Burns Harbor, Inland Steel's Indiana Harbor works, and the U.S. Steel's Gary works have committed to inventory mercury at their facilities and develop reduction plans.
One of the most intractable problems in the Great Lakes is contaminated bottom sediments. Contaminated sediments impact virtually all the Areas of Concern and are a source of continuing pollutant loadings to nearshore areas and to the Great Lakes as whole. Cycling of contaminants from bottom sediments is a leading source of contamination to the Great Lakes food chain. Contaminated sediments can also cause severe economic impacts on our harbours and restrict travel throughout navigational channels. Contaminated sediments problems have been addressed at many sites throughout the Great Lakes basin, as shown on this slide. Remediation activities have been completed at 21 new sites since 1995.
I would like to take a moment to highlight some of our sediment clean-ups. Several were initiated as a result of unique partnerships between government and industry as well as a result of state actions or the federal Superfund Program. In the Fox River here in Wisconsin, dredging resumed in August of 1999 at the deposit end near the City of Kimberly on the Fox River, with the intent of completing dredging it was begun there last summer at the site. This project is expected to remove most of the remaining PCBs at the location while removing another 3,500 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. This is in addition to the 100 pounds of PCBs removed last year along with 5,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment. This clean-up is being managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources while jointly funded by the state and U.S. EPA's Great Lakes National Program Office.
A larger or ambitious clean-up closer to Lake Michigan known as Deposit 56-57 area began this month. This project will remove another 12,000 tons of contaminated sediment at the a site that had the highest concentrations of PCBs on the river, exceeding 200 parts per million. This funding is coming from a group of paper mills identified as potentially responsible parties at the site. Results of these two clean-ups will be used to develop a Fox River clean-up plan to be finalized in early 2000.
Enforcement actions are also a strong tool being used in the Great Lakes basin. In June of this year General Motors Corporation, the cities of Saginaw and Bay City, the state of Michigan, the Saginaw/Chippawa Indian tribe, and the U.S. Department of Interior signed the Sagwa Bay Consent Decree. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. EPA were also involved in this action. This consent decree allows the legal settlement PCB-related damages to natural resources in Saginaw Bay to move forward. Settlement includes the dredging of approximately 345 thousand cubic yards of PCB contaminated sediments from the Saginaw River using an environmental dredge and the restoration of lake-plain prairies and coastal wetlands, as well as the protection of more 1,800 acres of threatened and endangered species habitat.
In Messina, New York U.S. EPA, Region II reached an agreement with General Motors Corporation for the removal of 23,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment and soil from the GM Superfund Site for disposal at a permanent facility in Utah. This includes 13,000 cubic yards of sediment dredged from the St. Lawrence River and stored at the site since 1995, as well as 10,000 cubic yards of sludge contaminated with PCBs from the active wastewater treatment plants on the GM property. GM is paying for the clean-up which will be overseen by U.S. EPA, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, and the St. Regis Mohawk tribe.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality took the lead in cooperation with Wayne County to remove 400 thousand cubic yards of contaminated sediment, including 3,400 pounds of PCBs and heavy metals and other organics from Newbergh Lake on the Rouge River. This project was completed in the fall of 1998 at a cost of 11 million dollars. Ten acres of aquatic vegetation were restored, 30,000 pounds of contaminated and undesirable fish were removed, and a new boat ramp and docks were constructed.
In Monguagon Creek in Michigan, a tributary to the Detroit River Area of Concern, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality took the lead in 1997 and completed the removal of 25,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment.
In Ohio 8,000 cubic yards of sediment containing 56,000 pounds of PCBs have been dredged from the unnamed tributary to the Ottawa River. This river had been one of the major sources of PCBs in Lake Erie. The clean-up has been completed through a public/private partnership between the city of Toledo, Ohio EPA, U.S. EPA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Gencor Incorporated.
Other recent clean-ups include, in the state of Michigan, the Manistique River and Harbor, the Pine River in St. Louis, Willow Run Creek on the Huron River, and Bryantmill Pond on the Kalamazoo River. In New York a hot-spot removal on the Grass River in Messina, but we are not stopping here. Upcoming sediments include the Black Lagoon on the Detroit River, as well as additional actions at the Pine River Tannery Bay on the St. Marys River, and White Lake, all in Michigan; the Calumet and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal in Indiana; Fields Brook and the Ashtabula River in Ohio; Haton Mill Pond on the Manitowoc River in Wisconsin; Interlake Duluth tar site on the St. Louis River in Minnesota; and the Grass River and the St. Lawrence River, both in New York. All of these actions are scheduled to take place between 1999 and 2002. Clearly these clean-ups represent progress on the sediments problem. We are moving forward in cleaning up the Areas of Concern. We need to continue working on sediments because clean-up will restore many areas to vital recovery both a human health, a recreational, and an economic standpoint.
Our second major goal is protecting and restoring vital habitats. The Great Lakes basin is home to more than 130 animal and plant species in community types that are critically imperiled or rare on a global scale. The Great Lakes ecosystem is a wealth of biodiversity and contains many precious areas of yet unspoiled land. The Great Lakes community at the federal and state level has been working on identifying these areas, places which have been called Biodiversity Investment Areas. Biodiversity Investment Areas are broad geographic areas that are rich in plant and animal species and it will require human resources to prevent degradation. Many biodiversity areas are identified in the U.S. alone along with others in Canada. To protect these valuable and vulnerable areas and to restore important habitat to the basin, we are working with our partners. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a leading role in habitat protection and restoration activities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as a variety of state, tribal, non-profit, and citizens organizations also have critical roles and are making important contributions.
I would like to mention just four examples of these initiatives. The first is under the Clean Water Action Plan. U.S. EPA and other federal agencies have committed to protecting critical wetlands habitat. Indeed, we are aiming to increase wetlands acreage nationally by 100,000 acres a year by 2005. In support of this goal EPA is working with local governments in southeastern Michigan, for example, to identify and characterize the quality of wetlands.
Second, the International Alvar Conservation Conference took place in Tobermory, Ontario last summer. It was a culmination of several years of work by more than 50 collaborators to provide a unified and consistent approach to understanding and conserving Great Lakes alvar ecosystems, which are specialized limestone habitats that occur along the Niagara escarpment from Wisconsin to eastern Lake Ontario, the results are an assessment of alvar sites and their status and the development of conservation strategies for the protection and stewardship of all our ecosystems.
Another example is the Wild Rice Research and Management Conference held on the Fond du Lac reservation in Minnesota this past July. More 240 tribal elders, scientists, natural resource managers, and interested public participants spoke on a wide range of topics including wild rice research, genetics, and ecology, as well as about the conflicts and concerns surrounding the preservation of wild rice as a tribal subsistence and cash crop.
The last example is on the eastern Lake Ontario where a key shoreline property has been acquired. A multi-agency team including the N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation, Oswego County, Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy and U.S. EPA are restoring a dune which forms a barrier to a major wetlands complex.
The third major goal I would like to discuss is protecting human and biological health. Of paramount importance is the protection of human health. One of the most important challenges we face is that of contaminated fish. Over the past few decades fish contaminant levels have dropped, however, we are still not freely able to eat certain Great Lakes fish due to the presence of toxic contaminants in fish tissues. Scientific studies have indicated that the potential health and developmental effects may be experienced by people, and especially children, that consume Great Lakes fish as part their normal diet.
In addition to humans, scientist have recently discovered that the presence of tumors on several zooplankton species in Lake Michigan. These are tiny organisms that form the base of the food chain. Although much work is needed to determine the cause of these tumors, the presence is significance for the overall biological health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.
There are fish consumption advisories in each of the Great Lakes, as well as in many smaller lakes and rivers within the basin. This is why it is so important that we keep working together on the toxic problems I previously outlined. Continued progress is needed both on a national as well as an international level.
Another problem now impacting the health of the lakes is one of aquatic invasive species. They are changing the biological make-up of the lakes and causing severe economic and ecological problems. Invasive species also have the potential to severely impact the food web in the Great Lakes. As an example, increases in the zebra mussels in Lake Michigan have been postulated to have been a potential reason for the significant decline in diporeia, an important benthic invertebrate that is a major source of food for young fish. In addition to the sea lamprey, alewife, and the zebra mussel, we now have over 140 aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes. About one third of these have appeared since 1960, after the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the increased pace of trans-oceanic shipping. Ballast water accounts for about 30% of exotic introductions and is apparently associated with almost all new species introductions over the past 10 years.
A new executive order signed by President Clinton last February raised the profile on invasive species prevention and control efforts in the Great Lakes basin. The order requires all relevant federal agencies to prevent the introduction of invasive species, to detect new populations, to restore native species and effective ecosystems, and to promote public education.
Despite this new call for action, the Great Lakes Program has always been on the cutting edge of invasive species control efforts. Since the early 1990s, our Coast Guard implemented the first mandatory control regime for ballast water in the nation, essentially requiring vessels to either exchange ballast water or seal ballast tanks for the duration of their lake stay. In 1999, the Coast Guard used this experience to develop a ballast management program for the entire nation. Until this program is implemented, an interim rule now requires all ships entering the United States to tell the government what they have done on the high seas to protect American waterways from invading species.
Despite our successful sea lamprey program which holds populations down to 10% of historic levels, and innovative demonstration projects such as the ballast water filtration system and round goby dispersal barriers, we must support the development of new methods to prevent further introductions. Re-establishment of native species and improving biological diversity are critical success factors we must continue to work on as we look forward to the new 21st century.
There are good news stories here as well. At the last IJC Water Quality Forum we reported that the eagle was taken off the endangered species list. This year the peregrine falcon has been removed from that list as well. Although the U.S. EPA's historic and, at the time, controversial decision to ban the use DDT in 1972 help make this possible, we can thank the extraordinary partnership efforts of the federal and state wildlife agencies, private ornithological groups, and falcon enthusiasts for the pace of this species' recovery.
Even more striking is the recovery of the double-crested cormorants. From near extinction in the 1970s the cormorant has increased over 300-fold and has become so abundant that in some areas they present management challenges. Throughout the Great Lakes basin there are more signs that the enforcement of the water pollution control laws, such as the Clean Water Act, have allowed the return of native species. Lake Erie's mayflies hatches are now of such a scale that they sometimes cause a nuisance for boaters and lakeshore residents for a few weeks every summer. That is a small price to pay for a cleaner and healthier lake. Lake trout in Lake Superior and the Parry Sound area of Lake Huron are now essentially self sustaining and require little or no stocking. In Lake Ontario there is both evidence of natural lake-trout reproduction and the gradual return of lake sturgeon, lake herring and the deep water sculpin. There are many recent signs of the general recovery of the native fish community is underway.
The citizens of the basin use the Great Lakes for recreational purposes, and clean and healthy beaches are at the top of our list of priorities for all Great Lakes citizens. Even though the vast majority of beaches have no swimming advisories, there have been a number of closings this season and there are still problems in this area. Many of you are aware of the unusually high number of beach closings that have occurred recently along Lake Michigan. The high bacterial levels that have led to these closing are a big concern to us. Where they are caused by traditional sources of inadequate sewage treatment, we are using our regulatory programs to stop the source but, as the events of this past summer in Chicago have indicated, a variety of factors may contribute to high bacteria levels, and finding effective solutions to the problem may require more investigation. Earlier this year EPA released a beach action plan to strengthen water quality standards, better to inform the public about beach water quality, and to conduct research to improve beach programs. We want to ensure that the beaches are safe for our families. We will continue to work with our state and local partners to keep our lake safe for swimming.
In addition to the environmental progress we've achieved, we are able to take a strong lead in developing improved management approaches to the Great Lakes. One of the most challenging aspects of cleaning up and protecting the lakes is to ensure that the wide variety of partners, particularly at the federal, state, and tribal levels are working jointly developing common goals and programs and the appropriate accountability methods which must exist for our efforts. In addition, there is a strong need to provide an overall strategic direction and focus on the changing Great Lakes system. I am pleased to report that we have made progress in a number of these key areas.
First, I am re-instituting the U.S. Policy Committee, which has been inactive since the early 1990s. This group is comprised of senior officials from the states, tribes, and federal agencies who will oversee strategic directions and accountability for the U.S. Great Lakes Program. The first meeting of this group is scheduled for November of this year.
Secondly, we are renewing the Great Lakes Strategy. This will ensure that all the partners are working together under common goals and that their shared responsibility, accountability, and improved tracking of progress with the programs to deliver environmental results for the Great Lakes. I expect that the new Great Lakes Strategy will be released in the spring of 2000.
A third major initiative is the Lakewide Management Plan acceleration. During the past year we have worked with our key partners to move the Lakewide Management Plans from a planning phase to one that is focused on implementation. The LaMPs are the primary means to ensure that there is a delivery mechanism for environmental progress and results for each of the Great Lakes. LaMPs are taking an ecosystem approach and applying it as well as serving as a platform for integrating the many crosscutting problems and resulting actions being carried out by a multitude of partners across each lake basin. We expect a set of deliverables for each of the lakes by April 2000, which will further help to provide a blueprint for action over the next few years.
In addition to the work being done for the Great Lakes, we now have a Lake Huron initiative. I am pleased to announce that Lake Huron is not the forgotten lake. There is a strong effort being led by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality in conjunction with U.S. EPA and a variety of other partners to ensure that Lake Huron and its basin is fully protected. A management plan is now in draft and a suite of actions are being formulated for Lake Huron. These will be released in concert with the April 2000 time frame.
We are now standing on the threshold of a new millennium, which will bring new challenges as well as greater opportunities for the Great Lakes environmental community. The lakes are a dynamic and changing system and it will take all of us to put our collective efforts together to ensure that we addressing all of the current problems as well as future problems, many of which have yet to be defined. We do know that the lakes will continue to be impacted by such issues as loss of habitat, urbanization, water quality problems, ongoing toxicological and biological changes, as well as global climate change. It will be quite a challenge for all of us to solve the existing problems while we grapple with finding answers to the new ones.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak here today and for your attention. I will now turn to George Meyer, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, who will provide highlights of Wisconsin's Great Lakes Program. George. (Applause)